In the Time of Absence

by Caro

Disclaimer: I don't write for SV. As you'll see on Oct 1.

For Bexless, my one true. And Zahra, who does this better.

His first thought when he wakes up in the mornings isn't about his thirst or his hunger. He starts off his days with Clark.

Dear Clark, he mentally pens, because writing implements are even scarcer than clean water and food. He makes a note on the side to make Helen pay for that. Boredom is not his friend, and he thinks if she were going to maroon him on an island, she should have at least had the courtesy to make sure that he was properly entertained.

Of course, Helen probably hadn't expected him to survive the plane crash.

He thinks about his revenge on Helen almost as much as he thinks about Clark.

Dear Clark. Wish you were here.

And God, he does.

It's not that he actually thinks it's Clark's job to save him. Clark does not, after all, walk on water.

It would just be nice if Clark did save him.

It would just be nice if he weren't alone.

He writes lengthy letters to Clark in his head, full of big words and extravagant detail. He quotes philosophers and generals, playwrights, the occasional proverb from Homer Simpson.

There are times he's too parched to even say Clark's name. His throat hurts.

His explorations of the island led him to find a small pool of water. The first time, the water made him sick. He threw up until he prayed for death. Now, it just leaves a faint trace of metal in his mouth. It never truly satisfies his thirst, but it keeps him alive.

He's not sure what he wants more; Clark, or the fridge filled with bottled water at home.

If he's being greedy, he'll say both.

Lex does not have a volleyball, so he has to make do with Clark. He pictures Clark with him no matter what he does. A hallucination he inflicts on himself.

Hallucination-Clark mocks him today as he tries to feebly gather some kind of shelter. His attempts at island architecture have disintegrated into a pile of leaves and branches that do nothing.

Robinson Crusoe he's not.

Exhausted, he collapses onto the sand. The sun beats down on him and burns his skin. It hurts to move, and he feels his strength slowly sapping away.

It'd be easy to give in now. The world probably assumes him dead, and the mourners will be few. Certainly not his father. Or his traitorous wife.

"I'll mourn you," Hallucination-Clark says.

Lex breathes and forces himself onto his feet again. He lost one shoe in the water. The soles of his feet are cut and bruised. But he walks, and looks for another place to make shelter. After all, if Gilligan can do it, so can he.

"This will make you who you are."

Lex nods.

It takes him the entire afternoon, and his hands are raw and bleeding by the end of it, but he makes himself a shelter. He thinks of his place back home, the castle Lionel had brought from Scotland stone by stone. His new home is a far cry from that, but it'll protect him from the elements, and right now, that's what matters. He comforts himself with knowing his father could have done no better.

Lex will survive this because he doesn't know how not to.

The face of his watch is cracked, and it doesn't work anymore, but he still wears it. He distinguishes the hours by the sun: there are the hours before it rises, and the hours after.

So far, the island tells him nothing more. There is no civilization around as far as he can tell. But his explorations have been fairly limited. He might hate this place but he's come to think of it as- not quite home --- but maybe his base. It's where his shelter is, and he knows exactly how far his water is from it, and where he can find lingering hopes of vegetation. Everything beyond this is unknown. He doesn't go anywhere too far unless he's sure that he can return to his shelter by dark.

Still, the growing isolation gnaws at him. Deserted islands are rare and far in-between and he wonders if Lady Luck is now on the Luthorcorp payroll. Everyone else seems to be, including his disloyal wife.

When he gets off the island, he tells himself, he will buy it and build a Club Med. The next person with traitorous relatives to wash up on shore will have a pool and a swim-up bar to look forward to.

"I like swim-up bars," Clark declares, laughing next to him.

"You're not even old enough to drink," Lex points out.

"I'm not old enough for a lot of things, Lex. You, of all people, should know that."

Lex does know that. It's why he's never extended anything to Clark beyond friendship, and why he chooses to obsess over a mystery in a cold blue room.

"I hate that room," Clark says.

"So do I," Lex confesses.

"Then why did you build it?"

"I couldn't have you. It seemed like the only substitute."

"It doesn't work that way."

"No, it doesn't," Lex agrees.

Nothing's quite worked out the way Lex had envisioned it.

When he gets home, Lex will correct his mistakes. Starting with his marriage to Helen.

Lex is dying.

He's lost track of how long he's been on the island.

His skin is red and raw and peeling. It is only sheer will that keeps him from screaming every time he moves.

His will is fading away.

The sun dips into the ocean for the night. He should be grateful because when the sun is gone, those are hours of less pain. But the absence of the sun makes everything seem bleaker, and Lex cannot find any hope any more.

When he was a child, Lex was afraid of everything. He used to run into his mother when the fears got the best of him.

His mother isn't here anymore.

"I'm here," Clark whispers to him.

He's too tired to reply. Instead, he closes his eyes, and waits for it to all end.

He thinks he feels someone brush a hand against his forehead. Except it can't be real, because if it was, he'd be wincing in pain. This touch is cool and makes him relax for the first since he's been here.

"Stay alive, Lex," Clark says to him.

I'm already dead, Lex thinks. I died in a plane crash.

"You didn't," Clark insists.

He wishes Clark would go away.

"If you die, you'll never know."

Know what? He wants to ask. But it's too late and he's already slipping into unconsciousness.

The sterile light of the hospital room hurts his eyes. He opens them for a few minutes and then closes them again. He hears voices all around him, doctors, nurses, all echoing various states of disbelief that he even survived. He hears words like rescue team, severe dehydration, IV, but he ignores it all. He sleeps, even though there's a niggling part of his brain that says he should be doing something else. He doesn't even ask how long he's been gone.

Time loses all meaning for him.

He feels him in the room even before he opens his eyes. He's been clinging to the apparition for so long that when the real thing touches him, it almost seems to be too much.

He opens his mouth to say something. It comes out as a croak.

"It's okay," Clark soothes. "You don't have to talk."

Lex does smile at that. Irony has never been lost on him; for days now, he's been craving to talk to Clark.

Clark stares at him too intently. His eyes seem to shine bright with guilt. It's a shade Lex knows.

"I'm glad you're okay."

Lex is glad too, though he's not sure about okay.

Minutes stretch between them in awkward silence. Clark fumbles and tucks his hands into his pocket.

Don't be nervous, Lex wants to say. Instead, he asks, "Helen?"

"She's gone. They're not sure where."

Lex isn't surprised. He'll find her.

Clark's hands tentatively reach out into the empty space between them. His fingers skate at the edge of the hospital bed, brushing against Lex's arm. The drugs they give him numb the pain, so all he feels is the pressure of Clark's touch.

It reminds Lex that he is alive.

He closes his eyes. Sleep now, he thinks. There is much to do tomorrow.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there," he hears Clark whisper.

You were, Lex thinks.

He can't tell Clark this now, but he will.

They have all the time in the world to talk.


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